Sunderbans Trip Report
by Sumit Sen
January 2006

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Day 2 .....

Day 2 started with a bit of early morning birding on Bali island. Plain Prinias and Purple-rumped Sunbirds were noted to be abundant around camp and Chestnut-tailed Starlings seemed to have replaced the Common Ioras seen on earlier visits. 

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Plain Prinia

Our primary aim on this visit to the Sunderbans was to enjoy the feel of the place. One way to do this is to take a day long cruise through the numerous channels and creeks which are typical of the landscape. These channels eventually connect to great stretches of open water where many rivers meet. Confluences like 'Panchmukhani' gives one the feel of being out on a calm sea without any land in sight ~ a place to appreciate the size and scale of the Sunderbans. 

After a quick breakfast we got aboard M.V. Sundari. Our destination ~ the watchtower at Netidhopani. Netidhopani is some distance away from Bali and is the southernmost point we will visit on this trip. Our journey to Netidhopani will take us over the  Khanakhali River and then through the many channels which crisscross the Sunderbans. We will eventually connect to the vast stretches of the Goasaba River on the banks of which lies Netidhopani Ghat.

© Sumit K Sen 2006
River Gumdi meets the River Kharakhali

Black-capped Kingfishers are much in evidence in the Sunderbans at this time of the year. We counted over forty of these brilliant kingfishers on the trip.  

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Black-Capped Kingfisher

Tidal creeks, like this one, are a feature of the Sunderbans mangrove ecosystem.

© Sumit K Sen 2006

The Sunderbans is the land of the tiger, crocodile, shark and venomous snakes. This juvenile Estuarine Crocodile, spotted by Kevin, was one of the few that we saw on the way to Netidhopani.

© Sumit K Sen 2006

On a previous visit Bikram Grewal and I spotted an over 18 feet monster - one of the largest photographed in India.

Day 2 (contd) .....

Fishing is a way of life for the inhabitants of tide country. Many fishermen travel for days in search of catch in dangerous country using these small boats (see image) as a home. 

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Fishing Boat, Khanakhali

While the men face the many hazards of the the open spaces in search of ever dwindling prey, the women endlessly trawl the river banks in search of Tiger Prawn fry. A normal catch fetches Rs.20-25 ($0.50) - the effort of many hours in dangerous waters.
Intensive fry fishing is devastating the ecology of the area as the non-commercial catch is destroyed and countless marine species have been put at risk of extinction as a result.

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Fry fishing, Khanakhali

The large Whimbrels and Eurasian Curlews are the most conspicuous birds on the extensive mudflats of the Sunderbans.

© Sumit K Sen 2006  © Sumit K Sen 2006
Eurasian Curlew                                                       Whimbrel

The Tiger is elusive in the Sunderbans. Though its presence is felt, it is rarely seen. These pugmarks were seen near the area mentioned in the news snippet.

The Telegraph, Calcutta. 27/1/06:


Tiger prey
Calcutta: Champa Naiya, 29, was killed by a tiger off the Matla. She was collecting crabs.

© Sumit K Sen 2006

In tiger country, the beast is never called by its name. Locals refer to the striped feline as "Mama" or uncle from fear and reverence.

The mudflats support a variety of marine forms adapted to the changing water levels which dictate every aspect of life in tide country. The mudskipper, an air-breathing fish of the Goby family, is a good example of such adaptability. It is equally at home in land and water and can use its fins as limbs to crawl and climb.

© Sumit K Sen 2006
Mudskipper

Though not numerous, Egrets are conspicuous due to their colouration

  © Sumit K Sen 2006
Great Egret                                                          Little Egret

Day 2 contd......

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